Blowing Up the Rabbit Hole

March 19, 2017:

After reaching dead end after dead end on the Stark Industries case, Agent Peggy Carter and Jessica Jones take a trip to Maryland to run down their final lead. They find a corpse, a few answers, plenty of highly confusing questions and three brand new enemies.

Dundalk, Maryland

It might just be Hell's armpit. Or Knowhere's left nostril.

Characters

NPCs: Kelly Anders, Mercer, Phina, Scism (emitted by Obidiah Stane)

Mentions: Tony Stark, Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Spider-Gwen, Obidiah Stane, Nick Fury, Peter Quill, Trish Walker, Azalea Kingston, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Six

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Weeks, and only a narrow path forward. All the leads have dried up. Whoever has done this, whoever has murdered those people that Tony and Obadiah had taken personal responsibility for, was very good at covering /most/ of their tracks. Except for the flash drive. Except for the obvious flags that these people might have been working for SHIELD - or an organization like them. The blond man they had been seeking at SHIELD proves a phantom, and there's one lead left to pursue:

BALTIMORE.

One of the victims was sending her money here. Half of it, every paycheck. It was the last stone yet unturned.

The city itself is like a condensed version of New York City in many ways, and passing through it is like a brief trip through a small borough. South and East, the suburb of Dundalk blends at the edge of the city, and is a walking nightmare of depressed America. It feels neglected. Old. With some of the residents doing their best to keep up lawns and hold on to the appearance that they have all but been absorbed by a city-level crime rate. It's night by the time they arrive at the address, far back behind an old abandoned shopping center that had only a single Chuck E Cheese as an active franchise. Old signs for 'Ames' and 'Sams Club' show on the buildings, and as they pass through the shared street behind it they fill find a lonely old house on an old plot of land, not but a stone's throw away from a tributary feeding the Chesapeake, and the Water Treatment plant across the street.

A single light is on in front of the house, small and dismal as it's surroundings, and the yard looks to be a picture of neglect. Vines grow over a discarded husk of a card in the front yard, and out of control trees dot the small plot of land. Past it, in the back yard, a boat sits out on the water at a private dock, but from the way it's tilted over and sunk, that too seems to be in a state of abandonment. There's a smell to the place, drifting from the treatment plant across the street, methane burning into the air, but it is not the only smell.

The front door hangs slightly ajar, the frame destroyed and the darkness within barely breached by the light on the old porch. The other smell comes from inside. The scent of rotting flesh battles burned methane, and a soft breeze coming off of the tributary.

Suddenly, this is less of a stone unturned, and something more dire.

—-

Jessica has brought a flashlight for this work, a big Maglite. Not sure what they'd find she packed a few items, including a better DSLR camera than her cell phone camera. All of it was gotten out of storage, the place where she truly keeps her valuables. If they drove, she would have let Peggy drive, not feeling confident enough in her skills yet to attempt it.

She pulls on a pair of gloves, full gloves rather than her normal fingerless ones, and flips the Maglite on, reaching out to slowly push the front door a bit further open so that she can sweep the light over the inside to reveal the body she has a feeling is inside. Her face settles into a grim and guilty cast; she's put off this trip and put it off. It's possible someone is dead here because she flubbed the case, chasing leads that weren't working and getting (at least perhaps understandably) distracted by the presence of two of her best friends in Hell. Nevertheless, she has to take responsibility for her own failures here. Tony hired her, and there's probably a fifth body now.

The answers they seek might have died with this person.

She says nothing, opting merely to look and observe, to see what evidence pops out at her, and even to get Peggy's take before she offers her own.

—-

Baltimore. It's a city not far from Washington, DC, but she still has spent little time in it.

As Peggy and Jessica approach the house with the broken frame and terrible smell, she pauses for just a moment. Her outfit is sensible: dark pants, dark blouse, comfortable shoes. She has brought her own items that will hopefully help this investigation, but for now those are ignored. Instead, she gives Jessica a quick look. Then, she's crossing the yard and up the stairs. It is almost certainly too late by now, if the smell is any indication, but she can't just wait without acting. If there is someone still in there that can possibly be helped, she will barrel forward toward it.

Moving to the door, she calls out inside. "Hello? Is anyone here?" She's not expecting Jessica to follow her recklessly. However, she will hope that the woman will be behind her. She gives a glance toward the PI and then back inside the house.

—-

Signs of a struggle will greet them both. A lamp knocked over. A small television on the floor. And the ultimate sign: A woman in her forties, missing her head. She's laid out on the couch as if she had just laid down for a nap, but the small cuts on her arms and hands and the stains where the blood soaked into the small room's only real furniture tell a different tale.

Her head, sunken and hollowed by a week or more in the off and on winter, but the shock of her last moments is still present, even if it's someone covered up by the maggots. There's a small hallway off the main room, and beyond the main room a tiny dinette and kitchen. It has decor that looks dated, old, cigarette stains on the drapes from years of smoking, and one very new thing: A crib, in the corner.

There are a few toys, too. All for a toddler at the oldest, though there is no sign of a baby - dead or alive. Save for one. Past the couch, near a end table, is a knocked over picture. One of Kelly Anders holding a newborn.

A closer look at the corpse will reveal that the decapitation was done with something exceptionally sharp and hot, both sides of the wound cauterized.

An ominous silence fills the space after Peggy speaks, and no one will answer her back.

—-

Jessica is absolutely with Peggy, but when she sees this she steps back. "Jesus! Jesus fuck!"

One might think that she's someone hardened, someone used to seeing a lot of dead bodies. She sure acts hardened, but she hasn't seen many of them, and they still have the power to impact her. Even given her past, even given some of the things she's agreed to do, even given some of the things she's stood by and allowed to happen and ignored.

"Fucking…shit of all fuck!" Her free hand flies to her mouth. A missing head is particularly gruesome, and for a moment she's not seeing details or investigative anything. It's just all a swimming mess of blood and gore to her; her gorge rises as she spots the maggots, and she stumbles outside, for just a moment, to vomit over the porch railing.

She remains bent over the mess for a moment, panting, eyes watering, face flushed. Her fingers grip the railing hard enough to leave indents. She then pushes off, wipes her mouth, sniffles, and heads back inside. Peggy will need her to back her up. There might be answers in there. A haunted, guilt-stricken, heart-hurt look settles into her eyes as she makes her way back through the house, takes in the baby things. "Shit, shit, shit, fuck, where is the fucking baby?" A missing child offers as much impact to her soul as a missing head.

—-

Peggy stops in the doorway, expression at first one of sadness and then that immediately transitions into tightened anger.

It's clear why Kelly was sending money here, now: the baby. When no one else answers and she hears no crying child, the need to rush slowly seeps out of her. It's been long enough for maggots, but no one has called the cops and the body remains here. Her movements slow to something more deliberate.

When Jessica leaves to vomit over the railing, she remains. Once the PI returns, she gives her a sympathetic look which asks silently, 'You okay?'

Pulling on a latex glove, she starts to carefully move around the place. The smell, the decapitated body, the missing child is all starting add up to a sinking place in her stomach and ache in her heart. "I don't hear the baby. Either whoever did this took the child, or someone is watching him or her." Her voice sounds steady and calm, but that's just due to training.

Though she does not wish to, she moves closer to the body, observing the wounds caused by the killing blow. "It was done with something very hot. The wounds are cauterized. And there's no…jaggedness to it." As soon as it's possible to move away from the body, she does so. "There has to be something around here that can lead us to who might have done this. Maybe we can find letters or papers or something. We can ask around."

—-

The good Agent Carter will find that the smaller cuts were caused by the deceased tripping and falling through the glass coffee table before, apparently, trying to scramble back and up and onto the couch. She'll also be closest to the fallen picture, which looks like it has an older frame, but the picture can't be that old at all. It does, however, have an odd weight to it.

Jessica will find that the room still hangs with an air of something dire, and it isn't just the smell. It's the ache of a missed opportunity. The gnawing sensation that something here might have been prevented. A quick search will reveal, indeed, that there is no baby.

The house is small, easily searched. There's a small attic, but nothing is up there but some molded insulation. It does look like the rest of the house was rifled through, but it's hard to tell what anyone might have been looking for. A dresser in the bedroom is cut in half, blackened where the cut was made, a mark of someone's frustration.

—-

"This body's been here long enough to gather maggots, I doubt the babysitter is blithely reaching for the 458th bedtime story," Jessica whispers, tears stinging at her eyes, but…she's recovering. "Do you think it could have been done with that suit? Fuck. Nobody even called the police. We're the first people to find this body, we have to be. And yeah, she had to know something. Otherwise, why bother killing her? We'd have come, found a woman and her baby and that would have been that. It would have been a god damned dead end."

She doesn't directly answer if she's okay, not even the look. She's very clearly not. But she does what she needs to do.

She investigates.

Peggy looks to the body. She starts her search with what she knows.

She goes for the trash, first, because that's where a PI so often finds things of worth, and that's where people who come to kill people over things they know rarely think to check. Most people don't want to dig through rotting fruit and old coffee grounds. Most people assume, as a matter of course, that if it's in the trash, it's gone for good. Jessica knows better. If there's something to find there, she's going to bet it's in the trash. She starts sifting through it, forcing her brain to focus on the task at hand. Later she can feel guilty, later she can process this absolute mess she's made, later. Right now…there's only forward, and catching the son of a bitch that did this.

A thought occurs to her, and she speaks to her virtual assistant through her phone. "Jarvis." There's a little sound, indicating the virtual assitant has come to life. "I want you to dig up any story or report of abandoned babies in the Baltimore, Maryland area within the past 30 days. Start your search within a 15 mile radius of Dundalk." If the killer didn't murder the baby then he or she might have just dropped it off somewhere. The killer probably wouldn't have bothered to go far with it. Either way, it's worth checking into.

She sits down on the kitchen rug to go through the garbage, and then frowns. She heard a creak. It sounds…hollow.

"This house is too close to the water for a basement isn't it?"

Abandoning the garbage, she yanks up the kitchen rug and tosses it aside, kicking aside a bunch of spaghetti-sauce-stained junk mail.

"Peggy. Look at this."

A trap door. Jessica pulls that open. "It's a god damn panic room." Locked. It's at a weird angle for her break the lock trick, though she's game to try it if she has to. Still, her initial thought is a bit more finesse. "Spies pick locks, right?" She steps away from it in the hopes of letting Peggy have at.

—-

"I know," she says softly, to the assertion that she doubts that a babysitter has held onto the baby for this long without notifying the police. There is certainly still hope, however, as the child is not here, which means it is likely it is still alive, though perhaps captured.

Even amidst the stench and gore and the worry for the child, hearing Jessica say the name 'Jarvis' causes a little bit of a start for Peggy. She knows it is the AI that Tony built, but it's still named after one of her closest friends and allies after the war. Shaking her head to clear it, she moves toward the picture. Though it is evidence, having a picture of the missing child would be best to have when they make their rounds.

Delicately, she plucks the frame and picture from the floor, noticing that frame is much older than the picture inside of it. As it moves, however, she frowns. The weight of this is off. Twisting the frame this way and that, she pulls gently at the bottom of the frame and a key slips out onto her palm.

"It is general protocol to have a lock pick set. However, I believe this will do just as well." She looks to Jessica and then to the panic room. She glances around at the house and then the locked door. "There is something going on. You wouldn't think the owners of this place would not be able to afford something like a panic room, would you?"

—-

The door will open easily with the key, which in itself shows the age of this kind of panic room. When it opens, lights turn on below. The sound of equipment whirling to life echoes from beneath them, and Jessica's phone chimes in.

"Search complete. Unfortunately I did not find our missing person. I will expand.. Ms. Jones, I am detecting arc reactor technology."

Just what the fuck else can that phone detect?!

The steps down are easy enough if they wish to chance them, all new and metal. There's no one hidden down here, but the small, makeshift lab tells the tale of Kelly Anders and one more secret she was keeping in this house.

On a table in the center of the room is what appears to be a small, home made arc reactor that's hooked up to a power control circuit with leads that run to another circular object that's raised at the very edge of the table. At the table is a chair, and a monitor, as well as a camera set to record the person at that station. Beyond is a small server farm and a backup power junction box.

The computer starts up from sleep mode, and a video that was paused near the beginning starts to play.

The young woman looks harrowed, like she hasn't slept for days. The date in the corner will confirm for them both that she likely died tired.

"This is my last entry. Aunt Cass doesn't know all of it. I asked her to take Annette some place safe. To someone we could trust. I've recorded and backed up everything SHIELD has asked of me since recruiting me. If I'm not back here in a month, it'll automatically find it's way to Tony Stark. I don't.. ever since we swapped phones, Agent Holmes has been icy. I think he knows I tampered with his. That my excuse was made up. I wish I had never done it."

The girl swallows, and looks down, the light on her face the same one illuminating them both: The light of an arc reactor.

"Building one of these was a dream. Using the other plans.. was a nightmare. I don't know what is going on here, if Mr. Stark is working on this technology or not. I don't know who will find this, an Agent of SHIELD, or someone in Mr. Stark's office. But i'll say here what I'm to afraid to say to your faces. Don't do it. Don't use it. We're not supposed to know our other selves. We're not supposed to know."

The video ends, and another monitor to the other side shows a small progress bar, as if something is counting up and up towards 100 percent, though it's an old DOS-style prompt. It's hard to say what it could be.

—-

Jessica starts when Jarvis says he's detecting the technology, for one moment tensing like she thinks they're going to be attacked.

Then they're in and below and she stares at the set-up. Her response is a tight, soft, "Shit."

The video starts and she shuts the fuck up. She does whip the phone out and start recording the recording, and the set-up, just in case. They'll have a copy now, pretty much no matter what. "We're not supposed to know our other selves? What the fuck is she on about?"

Her mind briefly flashes to Bugette. You're Jewel. You should have pink hair and help rescue people.

"Should we stop that count-down?" Count down, count up, what's the difference? Jessica has no idea about computers really. She can click on Windows icons and make her databases go, but anything else on that front is a mystery to her. "I mean I guess we could…unplug the computer…"

It occurs to her that a woman from the 40s might not be best suited to figure out how to deal with a DOS prompt either. She really should take a class or some shit. "I mean…we want it to go to Stark I guess. Who is Agent Holmes? Do you know? Don't use what? That doesn't sound like a suit at all. What the Hell else are arc reactors good for? Shit, we're really going to have to talk to Tony."

Who might fire her for getting Cassandra Marx killed. "At least Annette might be safe," she mumbles. "With someone who knows not to give her back or make any calls." She can pray. She will fucking pray, if it comes to that. She sort of hesitantly steps forward towards the computer, and back, just like anyone who isn't real tech savvy and who doesn't know what to do.

Wait, it's counting. "Shit! Do you think that's a bomb?"

Look, in some ways, Jessica Jones is really green. She makes a good show of being not really green, but…in some ways she really, really is.

—-

Jess is quick to record the played movie - which is good as that's still something that Peggy does not automatically think about: At times she forgets that her phone can do things like that.

The fact that there is a well lit, well maintained science lab in the basement of this house only heightens her thoughts that something is very off about all this. As the video plays, her expression softens. They are essentially watching one of the last moments of this woman's life. Luckily, they now have a name to go with the picture of the baby: Annette.

Not meant to know their other self is also met with a curious expression. She has no idea what that might mean and the question directed at her by Jessica is met with a shrug of her shoulders. "It sounds as if she thought someone from the authorities or from Tony to find this. I don't think it's a bomb." She pauses, then, glancing nervously at the progress bar as it continues to tick upward. "At least, I hope not."

However, just because she doesn't believe it is a bomb doesn't mean she wishes the uptick to reach 100 percent. Moving forward, she glances about the computer and attempts to find a way to turn it off. "But, if this is uploading to somewhere, I'd be more comfortable knowing exactly who it is going to." Glancing about, she looks back at Jessica. "Do you know how to fix this thing?"

There's a frustrated shake of her head. "I've never heard of an Agent Holmes. If she was recruited by SHIELD, what would they even have her do? I imagine they would allow her to use their labs. It shouldn't have necessitated a secret science lab complete with ominous warnings." Her voice sounds frustrated.

Sighing, she looks around this space and at the monitor that recently had Kelly Anders on it. "Yes, we can at least hope the child is with someone Ms. Anders trusted. Tony already distrusts SHIELD, and I have a feeling this information will do nothing to quell it."

—-

There have been a lot of horrible events cast before the view of Jessica Jones in all her years, and a progress bar fading out just as it hits the hundred percent mark is probably not the worst of them. Or is it? Peggy will have found the power cord to the PC, which thankfully isn't hooked up to the arc.

But what is hooked up to it begins to glow and hum, and with a sudden pop of a sound the space inside the circle seems to become a mirror. But not like a mirror, exactly. There's a lab there, but no Peggy, no Jessica. Instead, the woman in what looks to be a SHIELD jumpsuit turns slightly, her hair pulled back into a messy ponytail, and her forehead showing evidence of a cut.

"For frags sake, it's been weeks, what the f…" And then, the woman approaches. Cautiously. Slowly. And as she does it becomes clear that she is familiar to them both.

She is Kelly Anders.

"W-who are you? Where's Kelly? Wh…holy shit. Agent Jones."

There's a blip, and the image blurs for a moment, and Kelly looks up and around, a loud blast of a sound shaking her location. "Jess, find Fury, or someone else on that side near the top. Find them and tell them that Holmes - our Holmes was recruited from over here, and that there's no telling how he'll use his power. You have to- oh no. Oh frag. Turn it off. Turn it off! He's finding you. YOU HAVE TO TURN IT OFF FROM YOUR SIDE!"

The sound of battle that echoes through the ceiling in another dimension is harrowing, and Anders braces herself as part of that ceiling shakes loose behind her.

—-

"When Tony hired me he told me he thought someone was trying to point him at SHIELD. He thought the idea that SHIELD was doing this was bullshit," Jessica says. "Anyone can call themselves Agent Holmes and say they're from SHIELD, though…someone had to have gotten those SHIELD-issue kits from somewhere. That's still SHIELD equipment that went unaccounted for. She did something to his phone, she says…to Holmes' phone. I…may have a source I can take this computer to who might be able to find out more, if you'll let me. Maybe even figure out what she did with the phone. She said they swapped phones, which sounded weird. I wonder if she meant phones or numbers. For now I think we'd better pack up all this equipment and get it ready to go, then call the police when we're 20 minutes outside of town. From a burner. Whomever came looking might have left some sort of watch on the house. He could be on the way back to finish the job…especially since we found something he didn't. This has to be what our guy was looking for. He wouldn't have wanted us to find this. If he comes back, both of us may end up toast. And we gotta both of us sit down with Tony, I think."

For all the horror, for all the guilt, the hunt is nevertheless on. New avenues have been opened now. She's still due for a breakdown over Cassandra Marx, if not the baby. It's just not right here. Right now.

And then the thing fires up.

And she's looking at a live Kelly Anders. She's still recording, though her mouth drops open.

Agent Jones?

Other selves. Other dimensions. Other lives. In some dimension, she had what it took to be a SHIELD agent. Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with her in this one, anyway? Every fucking one she's encountered short of the nightmare realm has shown her far better and more successful Jessica Jones versions than the one she actually is! Fuck!

But then she's frantically saying turn it off, turn it off, so Jones pulls the power cord, and fast. Acting decisively. Like a SHIELD agent. And stuff.

—-

"When we first learned about this from Stane, he jumped right on the idea that SHIELD was attempting to steal some of his intellectual property." Peggy replies. It's not that she blames him, she knows that SHIELD can have something of a reputation. "It's possible to kill an Agent and steal their kit. Or, to counterfeit one."

Sighing, she nods and glances toward the stairs. The person who killed the woman upstairs might have the place on watch. "Yes, that's certainly within the realm of possibilities. Let's start shutting everything down and packing it up. Perhaps we should take turns as guard as we bring things to the car."

Her mind is already on logistics, a hand going to her gun when the bar hits 100 percent and the camera turns on. Quickly, she steps back, immediately thinking this is a means to record them to possibly add to the file to send to Tony. However, she stops as the mirrored room in the camera is wrong. There's a woman there that looks exactly like Kelly Anders. What? Is Kelly Anders actually still alive? Did she find a double that was killed in her place? How far into espionage did Kelly get?

Then, though, her attention steps back as it seems as what she's speaking about is not espionage, but strange science. 'Their side', 'Their Fury', what does that even mean?

"Your SHIELD? Your Holmes? Who recruited Holmes??" While Jessica is acting like the decisive SHIELD Agent, Peggy is acting like the one that needs information.

—-

There's something more to this energy mirror in the circle in front of them. Something odd beyond the obvious. Dust is floating in front of them. Dust that is not in this very clean space under the house. Dust that comes from over there. There's an explosion from this 'other side', and both of them will get to watch as Kelly Anders reaches for her belt and tosses something towards them.

Just before her final cry as rubble crashes down on top of her and crushes her out of view. The circle sputters as some part or whole of rubble impacts it's radius from the other side, and a grating sound splits the air as it's forced just a little too wide. When it shuts off, a piece of beam has come through, but is cleanly cut free, as if the other end simply did not exist. It smokes from where the energy shut off cleaved it in half, and it rests just a foot past the end of the 'portal'.

In front of them both will be a small device, which looks very much like an all purpose communicator kit that higher clearance SHIELD Agents can procure for field use. The room seems to grasp at silence. The lights flicker a little, but stay on. The home made ARC reactor continues to hum in front of them.

If either would like to remove the primary or secondary computer hard drives, that's easy enough. And the ARC reactor uses simple hookups to power the portal they were just looking through. The portal itself might be harder to move. It's damaged now, and welded to the end of the table.

—-

Jessica had started with the hookups on the ARC reactor, yanking them free. The phone is surely taking a strange recording now as she holds it in her hand while unplugging things.

She realizes a split second after that Peggy was asking questions but…she hadn't quite been fast enough to keep this thing from coming through anyway. "Shit. Sorry, I panicked," she says. She quickly removes the hard drives as well though, not too keen on anything or anyone else making their way through this portal. She in fact unplugs everything she can find to unplug, take out, or safely take apart. She looks…a little wide-eyed. She can take a lot in stride, and will eventually just take this in stride, but there is a definite air of 'What the actual fuck' thrumming through her right now, on top of her general distress over the carange upstairs.

The SHIELD item? She leaves to Peggy. For one thing, she doesn't know what it is. "That's not a bomb right?" Yep. Totally ridiculously worried about bombs right now. Or maybe not so ridiculously.

"Shit, we gotta move this stuff, we gotta photograph what's upstairs…if it's heavy I should carry it while you guard, if it's not you should carry it while I guard…" She stops herself. Shuts off the recording. Takes a deep breath as she puts her phone in her pocket. She's gotta calm down. She's almost babbling, even if what she says is sensible. She pictures a void and shoves her emotions into it. Really it just boils her emotions down to a general nervous nausea for about thirty seconds, but the exercise at least slows her down, gets her a little more functional.

She focuses on the fact that Peggy is near the top of SHIELD, has more experience than Jessica has dreamed of, and is a cooler head right now than she is. Peggy might note the moment where Jess refocuses on her, looking to her for leadership in a situation she has no real context for. She may be headstrong and independent, but she's not averse to following someone she respects, especially through situations she doesn't entirely understand.

This strategy is, after all, what has gotten her through the strange magical adventures that Zatanna and Constantine have introduced her to. She simply follows their lead, asks a lot of questions until she gets as much as she can, and muddles through. This isn't simple PI work anymore, this is definitely SHIELD level stuff 100% now, given technology that allows passage between realities. If she's gonna play in this pool, she'd better watch the one who knows how to swim.

—-

Peggy remains focused on the other Kelly Anders. As something is tossed toward them, Peggy's eyes widen. This is not just a video feed, things can be passed back and forth. And then, the ceiling crashes on Kelly. It's probably a good thing that Jessica is so quick to yank the cord, because Peggy - now knowing that things can move through the portal - poises herself to leap forward and into it. "Kelly!" she shouts as she moves, determined to get through to save at least one version of Kelly Anders.

It's entirely possible she would leap her way through the portal if not for the beam crashing through it, forcing Peggy to dodge to the side. In that time, it has been shut down, leaving a cut off beam and a ringing silence. There's a moment where Peggy stands there, her hands clenched into fists. Observing the resounding debris, she recenters herself. "It's fine. That was the right move." Had it not been for Jessica turning off the portal, it's entirely likely that Peggy might have been crushed to death in her attempt. Kneeling down, she plucks up the SHIELD communication device and looks at it for just a moment before carefully pocketing it. All the while, Jessica is quickly pulling hard drives and being proactive.

Then, Jessica turns to her for leadership. She nods, taking the responsibility immediately and without question. "You're right, we must pack this up. Perhaps Tony will be able to shed some more light onto what this might be. I will take the hard drives, they seem lighter. Is it possible to try and pull that portal device off the table? If not, we destroy it and take the pieces with us. Hopefully with the hard drives and that video of what it used to look like, Tony will be able to recreate it if that becomes necessary. But, we are not leaving it here only slightly damaged."

—-

It will take at least an hour, and most of the device can be broken off, but some small bit of it will be on the table. There's actually a net bag, the kind that comes in a SHIELD bug out box, which proves very handy in gathering things up. They'll almost be done, exiting the little bunker, when a sound from outside the house cuts through wood and metal to hum in their skulls for a brief moment, like a speaker turned on without it's input plugged in. A flash of burning crimson flickers from beyond the broken front door, and then the sound of someone moving.

"Huh."

The voice is a man's, and if they take a closer look, they'll see him in profile. A wide brimmed hat, a scruffy face, rugged jawline, and a black duster give him the look of a Texas drifter from ages past, and yet the small red lines of energy that course through his left forearm and hand give off it's mechanical nature. He reaches out to place that hand on the hood of the two investigator's car, and then his gaze cants sidelong, towards the house.

"Damned place looks like Knowhere's left nostril." His hat comes off as he describes the most run down, poor enclave of Knowhere's many workers, the left nostril known to many as 'the dregs' for good reason. But probably not anyone here.

—-

The small bit on the table is coming too. Jessica had merely cleared the table off, snapped the legs off said table like they were twigs, and then carefully broke the table down around the bit of portal until she had a good piece of wood and portal that would fit in the car.

She'd hefted the net bag onto one shoulder like it was nothing, cause heavy lifting is sure something she can do in this situation. The manual labor had calmed her, refocused her, though she'd visibly braced herself when it was time to go back upstairs where the nightmare-inducing body remains.

As the red flash hits, she freezes, ready to leap or fight or whatever needs to be done. She's just not sure yet what 'whatever' is. She glances out the window, even as she eases back from it a bit…some fucker is touching their car. Not good. "Might be the murderer," she whispers to Peggy, probably 100% unnecessarily. "That burning energy could have cauterized the wound and caused all the other damage we saw up here besides. And he sure knows we're here."

Good thing they gathered it all up and packed it up rather than making multiple trips to the car, or he'd be out there with a good portion of their evidence instead of merely their ride.

Still whispering: "What now?"

—-

While Jessica worked on the table and the portal, Peggy has moved to the stairs and kept watch over the house and just outside. Nothing. Then, however, she returns into the bunker to help Jess pack everything up into the bug out bag.

The Agent of SHIELD takes what she can to keep the weight off of Jessica, but that's admittedly not much while still being able to hold a gun and keep watch. The observation that the person who killed Cassandra may still waiting here has not left the forefront of her mind. She shuts the door to the secret lab room and then locks it, settling the rug back over the place where it should be. The key is put right back in her pocket. That is about when the red light flashes and they are no longer alone.

Her eyebrows furrow and she curses under her breath quietly. Glancing around, she moves a bit to the kitchen door in the back, but a quick assessment of the handle shows it to be locked. Another curse. Frowning, she looks to Jessica and then back at the door. "You can carry everything, right? I'm not strong enough to carry everything myself, so you have to be the one to take the evidence as far as you can. Use Jarvis to call a ride - it can do that, right? I'll distract our Lone Ranger while you find a way through that door and around back. I'll meet up with you back in Baltimore proper." It's not the best plan, but it's the only one she has right now. She passes along the SHIELD communicator that she pocketed, but keeping the key to the downstairs lab.

Then, she gives Jess a look and then sneaks her way toward the attic space. From there, she pops upward, gun pulled out and pointed down at the ground instead of at the man by their car. It's an effective way to make her presence known. Quickly, she crosses the space to the broken door. "This is an active crime scene, sir, I'm going to have to ask you to vacate the premises."

—-

The attention of the man snaps too, and when he looks at Peggy there's no mistaking that there's something 'enhanced' about him. His eyes glow a soft red, and his veins show signs of the same corruption, a subtle hint just beneath the skin.

Like his blood were perhaps not normal.

"Whoa there, miss. Lets not jump to givin' orders. Not yet. There's more than crime happenin' round here. I can smell a rift sixty dimensions away, and don't much like comin' round here. Somethin' funny about the way the coffee tastes on this planet, li…say now. You're a law-woman? You ever heard of a shitheel that calls himself Star-Lad or somesuch? His other name, I think, is Peter FUCKING Quill. Kindof a strange middle name if you ask me, but my associate was adamant about it."

He does not show any sign of backing off, and now that Peggy is within a dozen or so yards of him, she can see that he wears a kind of black body armor under that coat. It almost looks Asgardian, but with a more utilitarian bent, and seems to have the same energy flowing through some parts of it as his veins. It's hard to see right away, but he appears to have a weapon at his right hip, and he's already taken up a quick-draw shooters stance without even thinking about it.

—-

Jessica, for the record, really hates this plan. She is not, as it happens, a SHIELD agent, and while she was ready to look to Peggy for leadership there are limits. She doesn't leave friends. The one time her and Red's plan involved her getting the goods while he drew fire she hated the plan, but at least they were heading to the same place: his car. This plan involves her leaving Peggy with a maybe-murderer while she basically uses her SHIELD as a shield.

She had looked skeptical as Peggy had insisted on carrying weight she could carry herself. It occurs to her that Peggy might not realize, even with her snapping tables apart, that she's not entirely just a PI, just a civilian, that she's enhanced. Or maybe it's her lack of training, or maybe it's something else. Either way…Jessica realizes she's not going to bug out of here and hope Peggy doesn't get killed.

She slips out the back of the house just like planned. She shifts the weight of the bag and summons up all her control. This is so when she leaps to the roof she can leap lightly. Most people don't look up, and she makes sure to land on the angle of roofing facing away from the brewing confrontation. She sets the bag gently down in a spot where it's not likely to fall or slide away, keeping it out of sight. Then she drops to her hands and knees and climbs gently to the rise of the roof, barely daring to make a sound. If she talks him down or gets him to go away, great. They can just go to Baltimore together. If he attacks, it will be Jess-from-above all the way, ready to fuck up his day in the worst way.

Talk of Star-Lord gets her eyebrows arching, as does talk of the rifts. Maybe not the murderer. Maybe a potential ally, or just someone with his own interests in this matter. Either way, she doesn't trust him, and she's going to keep right on watching Peggy Carter's back whether the spy likes it or not.

—-

Peggy has seen enhanced people. She's seen magic and wings and quite a lot of strange things. A man with glowing eyes and corrupted veins is certainly creepy, but with the day she's had, she's not about to let that put her off her game. She's using the authority of SHIELD here and she will not allow that veneer to crack.

"I'm an Agent of SHIELD, yes," Peggy tells the man. As he asks about another person, her eyebrow raises. Peter fucking Quill. Yeah, That Guy. Of course this has to do with him. She's met the man once or twice and she imagines trouble follow shim where ever he goes. Either way, she has to keep this guy's attention on her and not on Jessica who is - hopefully - following her plan and getting all the evidence away from here and to safety.

"Peter Quill, yes, I've heard of the man. Are you looking for him?" Peggy stops a respectable distance away. It's enough that she can see the black armor and the way that he stands indicates a weapon at his hip. Her own hand remains on her gun, but she does not raise the gun up. He'll note that she is also standing like a woman used to battle and gunplay. If she can get out of this without firing a shot, she'd prefer that, but if she has to shoot, she will.

Keep the man talking, buy some time: that's her plan. But, more than that, perhaps she can get some information from the man. "What do you mean by a rift?"

—-

Maybe that wide brimmed hat of his is working to Jessica's advantage, because he doesn't seem to notice her. Then again, Jessica can't exactly see his eyes right now either. But Peggy can. She can see him glance up. Through his own hat. Then back down. Back to the Agent and her gun.

"A rift would be the thing ya'll shouldn't be fussin' with, on account of it's beyond this little world's ambition just yet. As for Star-Lad, well, that's a slightly different, long-standing issue. Bounty. Everyone's after him, of course, though some are more.. what's that word? Right. Agreeable. They honor certain treaties. The Agency doesn't. But, since we're both Agents, I'll extend you a little professional courtesy on this job."

His left hand reaches up, towards the brim of his hat, and he takes hold of it to give a little tip forward with a nod of his head.

"Won't shoot you first."

The blur of motion that happens next is not natural. He appears in three places at once for a split second, but each ghost-motion renders the same result, his right hand sweeping his duster back. His left hand dropping down to the hammer as the weapon is fired.

The crack of the gun is like thunder as six shots rattle off, searing a path towards the assailant waiting to pounce on him. The fire is not as accurate as someone squeezing off shots one at a time, but it rips through the roof like an enlarged shotgun blast.

One round wizzes by Jessica's cheek. The last round. It might even singe her hair. At least two others went wide. But she'll know where the other three went. They hit her new clothes with the force of three sledgehammers, and a moment after impact she can feel the burn of crimson energy as it begins to melt /through/ even the reinforced Stark-garments.

Maybe his real courtesy was paying so much attention to Jessica with his infra-vision that he doesn't have a chance to do anything else but backstep once, his intention to use Peggy's car as cover.

—-

Shit. Shit! SHIT! Maybe she should have listened to the plan after all. She'd tried to be careful! She was sure she wasn't heard! Damn it, maybe she should have listened to Peggy.

Why do I suck?!?

These are her split second thoughts as the round bites into her cheek, drawing blood. An explosion near her cheek a few seconds later tells her that would have killed her if it hadn't grazed her.

She cries out; both from that pain and the pain of the crimson energies melting through her garments. Splatter on her arms, splatter square on her chest, like napalm. It's starting to burn, it does burn, and she's afraid to whip either off on the roof lest the house burns too. Groaning in pain, panting with fear, she decides there's only one real course of action; she's going to try to make herself less useless. She rips her jacket off, takes off at a run, and leaps high into the air.

She will try to land to the side of him, wide of any shot Peggy may take, and will try to whip the burning jacket right into his face as a distraction before attempting to grab that gun and wrest it away from the bounty hunter with all her considerable strength.

—-

The roof? Why is he looking at the roof?

Ah, crap. There can really be only one reason.

"I"m pretty sure we're not agents of the same agency," Peggy tells him, putting a bit more weight on her back leg. Something's about to happen, she knows that, but she attempts to draw it out. Please, Jess, go, run. "And as far I as know, we're not messing with anything of the sort."

But, there's nothing she can do to stop the attack. Turning back to see if his shots land does nothing in the moment. Instead, she pulls the trigger. He's fast - impossibly fast - but there's only one good piece of cover nearby and she can guess where he is heading. Her gun is not of lead, but filled with ICER bullets, made to paralyze and freeze people with abilities like it seems he is exhibiting. She only fires two shots, not wanting to waste them.

Her legs are already moving as she does this, moving not forward, but backward to get some cover afforded by the inside of the house. Maybe she can get to J—-and then Jess is there. The woman leaps into the fray with a flaming jacket and an attempt to get the gun out from his grasp. An immediate feeling of relief to know the woman is alive - if perhaps not so good at following orders.

From behind the door frame, she pulls around in an attempt to shoot another round to give Jessica some cover.

—-

"Whoa there!"

The shout cries out as the flaming mad-woman enters the fray, and even though the 'flames' are mostly embers as the energy begins to die out, Mr. Agent wants none of it. He leans towards Jessica when she swings, thinking it better to take a punch than a swat of energy to the face.

"Phina! Schism! Need b-"

The ICEers land at about the same time, mostly impacting on armor, and their effect is unclear, because he just got punched by Jessica Jones. He even leaned into it! There's a sudden lack of stability in his legs as they're ripped from under him, and his gun goes flying off and into the woods somewhere as he lands hard on the back of his neck.

CRUNCH.

It happens so fast, so suddenly, it's hard to tell how it all went wrong for the poor mercenary. A series of unfortunate events, to be certain. There's a twitch. A slow exhale of air. Hard to say if it's last. Then, there is that sound again. It rumbles, peeling away at the inner ear for a brief moment, and this time from somewhere in the backyard.

More of them. Who knows how many. He said two names, right?

At least two.

—-

Holy shit that actually worked?

Yeah, Jess is shit at orders. And her eyes widen. Shit, did she kill him? SHIT! She didn't mean to kill him…She snatches up her jacket. She's got stuff in there. She tucks it under her arm, looks wildly towards the back yard, and says to Peggy, "Um, um…start the car, I'll get the stuff! Let me worry about getting into it! And um sorry! Sorry! I couldn't just leave you to die I hated the plan I'm sorry!"

She takes another flying leap, hits the roof with no attempt at subtlety this time, and snatches up the bag too, before these guys can get to it. She saw the first one split into three places at once. She ducks her head low, throwing an arm out.

Please don't shoot me again, please don't shoot me again. Her chest, arm, and face are in agony, but at least it's not an active burn anymore, not acid eating away at her flesh or clothes or anything, so there's a blessing. But who knows what the other guns can do? And so it is that there's a litany of blistering curse words, hissed under her breath, some of which are way beyond the pale and a little too loud. A ninja, she's not.

—-

As the woman attacks, Peggy keeps her distance for a moment until Jessica grapples the man in the hat. Then, she's running forward. The gun goes flying off into the woods. She's not close enough by the time the man goes flying backward, but she does wince at the sound. That's not something anyone wants to hear.

The noise happens again and while Peggy lowered the gun at first, it quickly raises again. Peggy doesn't yell at Jess and she doesn't roll her eyes: there's things that need to be done and yelling isn't going to help them in this moment. First, she moves toward the woods for the gun, but she realizes almost immediately that it's worthless to search for it while trying to dodge two other people who are similarly powered as the man in the hat. Instead, she opens the passenger side door, then runs to the driver's seat of the car and gets in. Jamming the car keys into the ignition, she turns it on, putting the car in drive and waiting for Jess to get back.

She's not worried about stealth: that part of the mission is gone now. What she cares about is getting the pair of them out of this.

—-

Another shot does not come their way, and when the red glow from behind the house dies away, they can see two figures walk from behind it, each of them smaller than the man they completely dunked on. Almost literally, in Jessica's case.

"Believe/, fam. Merc got merced, sure as rain on the rim worlds." The southie block accent rings forth, and the pair of red-eyed women stop in their tracks when they see the car. One has a spear of some sort, and almost appears to be wearing an armored… dress? The other is a young woman with short, tosseled, mad hair, a red and black pixie punk of some sort or another. Two gleaming red blades appear from the small of her back, and she blurs slightly, before a hand from the other reaches out to stop her.

"Let them go, Schism. Look..at.." Her laugh is like music, and she points the spear at Merc's twitching body. Jessica and Peggy are clear to make a get away, but as they do they will see a bloom of light from Merc's dying body as Seraphina slams the blunt end of her spear to the ground.

"Fortunately for you, foolish boy, there is enough of you from other timelines to go around… and my underlings never die."

—-

Jessica decides not to question it. It's a boon, and she needs to take it. She leaps down next to the car and dives inside, shoving the evidence at her feet and panting with adrenaline. She slams the door and buckles up, staring at this spectacle, pale-faced. Oh god, she really killed him, she really killed him, just because they're grabbing someone from another timeline does not mean she did not kill him.

"Ok ok I'm ready go go," she gasps, thumping her head back, not quite remorseful enough to want to stick around. She drops her jacket in her lap, checking that all of her stuff is still in there…her Stark Phone, her Steve Phone, her Jane Thing that Tracks Tracking Devices, the Pinch. All there, unmelted…the stuff hit on the other side from that pocket. "Let's get the fuck out while we still can."

She finally peels at her shirt, bits of which are stuck in her burn wounds, and hisses as she rips flesh. She decides to stop that shit immediately and presses a hand to the throbbing wounds instead, shaking from head to toe. With pain, with emotion. Her teeth are soon chattering with the force of the latter…there have been a lot of shocks tonight. She sniffles a few times, trying to spare herself the indignity of crying in front of a real professional.

She has never envied someone their cool composure as much as she envies, in a vague way that sort of worms its way through everything else, Agent Peggy Carter's.

—-

As soon as Jessica is in the car, Peggy puts her foot down on the gas and they're off. "You've got everything, right?" The evidence is important and they need to get it to Tony. She keeps her eyes on the road for the most part, but she can't help but glance in the rearview window a few times.

It truly does look as if Jessica might have killed the man in the hat. There's a bright light that centers on the 'Merc', but she keeps the car moving forward. What the hell indeed!

She also glances at the side, wincing at the sight of Jessica's wounds. "Are you alright?" she asks the woman, finally allowing the mission to seep a little out of her and the woman starts to return. She winces as she realizes that she asked about the evidence before she asked about Jessica's well-being. "He didn't hit you with those bullets, did he? His speed was supernatural."

—-

There's a wave of something that passes through the car. Something warm. Something red. It fades as it moves through metal and past them, until like a wave running out of energy it will fade into the ground.

Jessica will feel her wounds warm over, feel them knit and mend in the causal wake of The Agency as the man they were certain they killed slowly rises from the ground in Peggy's rear view mirror, and snatches his hat up with a glare cast after the vehicle. Looks like whatever that woman did, it undid Jessica's latest sin. And maybe a little more.

While Jessica's wounds won't be fully healed by that energy, so casually cast about without regard for what it might do to the rest of poor Dundalk, she'll only have a few tender red marks, instead of something that might have certainly become scar tissue.

Just about then, there is a buzz at one of Jessica's phones. A text message from Azalea: 'Moving to New York full time. I need my family.'

—-

"I got it all," Jessica replies, nodding fervently, the lump still in her throat. "I made sure to secure it before."

If she's upset that Peggy asked about the evidence first it doesn't show; really she thinks it's an entirely sensible question to ask. "I'll heal. I might go to Zatanna if it takes too long though, this really fucking hurts… I got grazed and splashed, not directly shot, but the shit burned through my clothes and on into my skin like god damn…napalm. Or at least napalm, as it's portrayed on TV. They exploded though, I think if I hadn't been wearing these clothes I'd have died. Remind me to thank Tony for saving my life with his gifts. Or if the thing had actually embedded in my face, whatever that shit was he shot."

She starts to shake all over again. "I didn't mean to kill him," she whispers. "Normally my control is nearly perfect, I didn't mean to kill him, I just wanted to knock him out, distract him, get the gun, I can't believe I hit him too hard." But it was dark, and she was fueled by adrenaline, and she was hurting, and he was superhuman, and she did hit him far harder than she'd ever hit some stupid thug in an alleyway.

"Jesus fuck, my DNA is all over that crime scene too, vomit and blood well maybe not it cauterized but oh god, oh Jesus. And I forgot to take pictures of the crime scene, I forgot that, how could I forget that? And I almost screwed everything up and I'm sorry, I just couldn't leave you, I was afraid he'd kill you and I'd go to Baltimore and wait and wait and come back and you'd be a corpse and it would be all my fault."

And then that wave of warm energy spreads through the car and she starts. "I'm…I'm healed," she says, so startled she forgets to be upset. She pokes at the red mark on her face. "Mostly. Holy shit!"

She turns around. "Holy shit he's up! He's awake! Or is he just some new timeline version? But he still looks pissed. God, I'm sorry, I'm a mess, I'm a waste of space, I'm sorry I know when I came to you I probably looked halfway competent."

Buzz, buzz.

She digs out her phone. And then she bites her lip, this time with an upswelling of emotion that's a lot more positive.

She texts back. Good. Love you.

It's getting easier and easier to say the more she says it. Poor Trish waited years to hear it, and now she's giving it out more freely. She wonders if Trish will be jealous to know that, angry. She shies away from that, unable to handle any deeper emotional territory. It does remind her of something though. There's something calmer, if something still so incredibly emotional in her voice as she speaks again, softer, more tentatively.

"Can I ask a personal favor? Even though I sucked?"

Yep. She's all over the place.

"Sorry, something just…just reminded me. I meant to ask on the way up."

—-

"I'm glad you're alright," Peggy tells Jessica immediately. She opens her mouth as if to lecture her, but then she stops. It's clear that Jessica is going through quite a few things right now. To lecture her right now seems like it will only hurt rather than help. "It's okay, Jess. I'm just glad you're alive. That guy was trying to kill you, you said it yourself. It was self defense."

If Peggy is going to look at Jess differently for having killed that man, it's not showing. "You're not a waste of space. We remember what the crime scene looked like, we can describe it. We have the important bits, the things from the lab. We'll study it later."

Peggy almost stops the car up short when she sees the Merc - as he was called - stand up again and Jessica's wounds partly heal. "I don't think that is a different guy," she tells him. "He's looking like he certainly remembers what just happened and not in an alternate universe sort of way."

Seeing that look, she presses her foot to the gas all the harder. Better to get out of there as fast as possible. It's a few streets before she answers Jessica. "You can stop apologizing, Jess. We're okay. You can ask me a favor."

—-

Jessica Jones chuffs a laugh. "I can see why you and Steve are so into each other. You're like him, you know? You've got the same—steady core, in addition to the same goodness. You're not the same, but you've got it, what he's got."

She wipes at her eyes, calming visibly with some of Peggy's words. It was self-defense. It still makes her feel a little sick, but he's also a whole lot of…not dead. They must have fixed him before he died. She'll just have to be more careful.

She probably would have accepted the lecture, really, but…it's probably just as well.

She takes deep breaths, in and out. "You remember my sister Trish? From the party? I…" Wow this is more awkward than she thought it would be. "I wondered if you'd be willing to help her learn how to defend herself better. I mean she's already taking private Krav Maga lessons but. She got attacked, and honestly the more I do this…thing that I'm doing lately, the more I worry she'll be targeted. You don't have any powers, but you are nevertheless a complete bad ass holding her own with people who do. I feel like if she needs to learn from anyone, she needs to learn from someone like you. I know you're Hella busy and I know I'm asking a big investment of your time, but…your name is the one that popped into my head, and I thought I'd at least make the ask. And…given her media connections and stuff, well, if you ever need that for your own efforts she'd help, and do so 110%."

If she doesn't try to talk Peggy into recruiting her or something but…Jessica is intent on trying to let Trish make her own decisions in that arena.

The mention of Steve is met with a bit of a startled look. She wasn't expecting that. Generally, she doesn't think of herself or Steve on the same level in that manner. He's Captain America, she's a spy. While she always thought of Steve as a person who shared her values, who sees the best in people, she has always set herself apart from that.

Soon, the people they fought are soon completely gone from their rearview and she can focus on the personal favor Jess is asking of her. Peggy lets Jessica say her piece and caveats. "I'd be glad to help your sister," she tells her. "I'm not sure what good my lessons will do her, to be honest. I can fight, but so many times it is simply me waiting for an opportunity."

Glancing at Jessica, she shrugs her shoulders. "When people can toss another yards without thinking, there's only so much a punch or a gun can do. But knowing how to defend yourself is helpful. I'll never tell anyone that it's not. IF she'd like to learn, I'll teach her."

—-

"She would. I already know she would. I'll tell her. Thank you." Jessica says. She's now calm, and she'd noticed the startled look. She smiles, but she doesn't elaborate, saying no more about Steve, venturing no further into territory that might embarrass the Agent. Peggy Carter is good people, and she's pretty much just proven it by being willing to help someone she hardly knows. She does blush a little bit at being able to toss people yards without thinking.

"Bucky pretty much taught me that the super-strength isn't everything," she says dryly. "I think right now if you truly wanted to hand my ass to me you probably could hand my ass to me, because you know how to wait for that opportunity, and to use the tools you've got." It might not be that way forever— Jess hopes, at least, that she's a good enough student to eventually wash away her numerous defects, but…there it is.

She quiets then, for a long moment, adding, "Your cool head doesn't hurt either," she adds.

"Alright. So…back to New York to set up a meeting with Tony. If I can make sure SHIELD's not watching me and if you're willing to let me do it, I might be able to get more out of those hard drives than we'd be able to get on our own. I have a hacker. He's really good, and he never uses his skills to harm anyone, but protecting him and his identity is part of the gig if I want to secure his aid. I've now had an Agent other than you show up at ALIAS and a third one pass on her card to me through a third party so…I'm really not sure, these days, how much anyone over there is paying attention. I don't want to lead anyone to his doorstep. Other than that…any ideas on what the Hell we do next? We sure found a lot of information, but it's all firmly in the What The Fuck category."

"You're welcome," Peggy tells Jessica with a nod. With a grin and a shrug, she nods. "It's not. But, it certainly helps. I taught Steve a bit before the serum. During Project Rebirth." Then, she laughs. "Well, I could shoot you, or crash the car to my advantage, but on a head to head fight, I would not bet against you. And a cool head will only carry a person so far. And my own doesn't always think straight."

Frowning, she nods. "As long as it's not the SHIELD communication device and I am there." Glancing to the side and then back on the road, she adds, "It's not that I don't trust you, but if you are doing something that may involve SHIELD technology without SHIELD's knowledge, I would like to be there. For all we know, it deals with this Other SHIELD." The one where Jessica is an Agent and Peggy is not.

As for who may be paying attention, she shrugs her shoulders. It's really up in the air to her, too, as far as she knows. "I'll be discreet and I will not divulge anyone's identity."

—-

Jessica shakes her head. "Not the communictor, just the hard drives. But bringing you there breaks my agreement with him. We'll have to do this some other way if you feel you'd need to be there for the hard drives. If I bring you there he will spook right out. But there's more than one way to get at information, so we'll try other avenues instead. I understand the position you're in and why you want to be there, but the position I'm in with him says that's not a feasible plan. I gave him my word."

Her word, it seems, is her bond, even if she'd never describe it that way.

She gives a wry grin. "It's not that I don't trust you, but…he won't."

She pillows her head against her arm, adding, "It's trippy stuff to try to wrap a head around isn't it? Other worlds, other lives, other choices. On one hand, that's great. Kelly Anderson is alive somewhere. People I care about who are dead? Also probably really and truly alive. Somewhere. And this time it's not just Hydra's Fako-World, these are real dimensions. Second time this month I've run into some evidence of that in fact. If you try to think too hard about it you wonder…do my choices here matter, if really in a series of infinite possibilities I could literally be making simultaneously every other choice I could make right this second? But…I think in the end it does matter, because…I guess this is the only Jessica I can be."

She frowns, thinking it through, getting to a point that's more than philosophical. "I think it's possible all our victims besides Cassandra Marx, all the technology thieves, were chosen for very specific characteristics, all the ones they had in common. I think it's possible they did it thinking they were doing the world a service, because we found no evidence they were being paid, or bribed, right? The world, or the universe, or the multi-verse. Because someone from Other-SHIELD said so."

Slowly, very slowly, peeling back layers. "Kelly said 'we aren't meant to meet our other selves.' What if I was wrong? What if they really weren't murdered? What if they did all suicide, every last one, because the stress and strain of coming face to face with their other selves, and attempting to work with their alternate personas towards some strange end, of questioning their every choice in this reality, and their significance in the grand scheme of things, really did drive them to suicide?"

—-

Peggy frowns, then nods. "If it's possible to ask him if he would be alright with it, I'd appreciate it. If he's not, we'll figure something out." But, this deals with SHIELD and someone possibly working counter to it or even stealing information. She wants to be involved with it.

"I think that certainly mean your choices matter. If they didn't, every single world would be he same. Your choices shape who you are and I believe this only proves that." There are quite a few things that Peggy believes strongly in: the matter of choice is incredibly high up on that scale.

"It's possible they were doing this because they thought they were working for a good cause, or for the break throughs in science. Not even Kelly seemed to know with whom she was actually working." She sighs again. "There's quite a lot to uncover and I can only hope some of it is on these drives and that communicator."

Then, the matter of the suicides. "Perhaps. However, Kelly was scared for her daughter. And someone was after that lab, otherwise Cassandra would still be alive. I'm not convinced they all killed themselves, or if they did that they were not coerced into their actions somehow. If you noticed, one of those people from the other dimension had red glowing blades. If they had similar properties to that cowboy's gun, it's possible she was the killer."

—-

"The guy running around in the fake suit is still a possibility for the murder too. He shoots energy beams that could have done all that. Three suspects then. And Agent Holmes, who knows what he can do." Jessica exhales, closing her eyes against Cassandra Marx's death. "Well. At least we can say for sure we've made some progress. The case isn't dead in the water. It's just 4000 times stranger than it was, before we drove up here."

Softly: "How long does it take for maggots to show up on a cadaver?"

She supposes she can look it up on her phone. And she does. "It's cold weather, not warm weather," she says thoughtfully, scanning through a web page. "But we didn't see beetles or spiders or millipedes, and this says they show up 36 to 48 hours later, after the body is dry…shit."

"I think even accounting for the weather she couldn't have died more than 24-48 hours ago." If they'd just been there sooner. If Jessica had insisted on coming sooner. She'd still be alive. They could have gotten her to safety. Then again they might not have found the panic room, but…the notion twists her stomach unhappily. She'd hoped to hear it would have taken over a month for maggots to arrive, so she could defray responsibility, but the science is against her. It's such a gruesome topic but she barrels through it anyway, her first real homicide case, she supposes. She's in for more of this when Elinor drops more on her desk. At least in most of those cases it won't be her fault.

"Should we buy that burner and contact the police about her do you think?" Maybe the vomit will just be all hidden in the dirt and the police won't notice it.

—-

"Stranger, at least, means it's moving in a direction." It's not exactly optimism, but it will do. The thought that it took some time to get down here also crosses her mind, but she steals herself with the possibility that Cassandra may not have left. Or that even after they did, these same murderers would have found her anyway. Anything is a possibility, it seems.

"I believe we should, yes. That woman deserves a proper burial and - at least - others to attempt to look into what might have caused this." While the cops might not have any real clue as to what it was, there will be others looking into it.

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